Toxin Free Beauty + Body

Toxic Nails: The Dangers of Nail Polish and Fake Nails

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Two of my favorite things are cherry red lipstick and matching nails.

But ever since I found out the connection between beauty products and cancer (among other hazards), it has kind of put a damper on my former habit.

But lucky for us there are some great alternatives to the toxic products found on most store shelves, so you can keep your beauty fix if you really need to. As for me I let my sexy nails go in their birthday suit most of the year (teehee).

In this second part of the Dangerous Beauty series we’ll review why you want to stay away from traditional nail polishes and fake nails and stick to safer options. Believe me it’s NOT pretty (heehee–I’m on a roll).


Toxic Nails Chemical #1: Acrylates

Also listed on labels as: ethyl acrylate: Acrylic acid ethyl ester, ethyl propenoate, EA; ethyl methacrylate: ethyl methacrylate, ethyl ester, methacrylic acid, ethyl ester, ethyl 2-methyl-2-propenoate, EMA; methyl methacrylate: Methacrylate monomer, Methyl ester of methacrylic acid, methyl-2-methyl-2-propenoate, MMA [1]

Linked to, known as, or causes: Lung, liver, and kidney toxicity. Developmental damage and malformations, reproductive system damage, cellular damage, and neurological damage.

Why it is dangerous: Acrylates are found in fake nails, nail and eyelash glue, and in polishes like the new gel based polishes. They are classified as hazardous chemicals as potential carcinogens [2] [3]. I don’t know about you but longer shiny nails (or lashes) aren’t worth cancer.

Anyone who has ever had fake nails knows the unique fake nail smell. That smell is a red flag, and the reason why most nail technicians wear those distinctive masks.

Knowledge of this has led to a rise in “fake nail free” salons that do not offer fake nails as a way to entice more health conscious customers and workers. Unfortunately that’s only half the battle since polishes also have acrylates (as well as other harmful chemicals).

This rise is avoiding fake nails is done for good reason as acrylates are associated with lung damage, liver toxicity,and kidney toxicity. Respiratory problems, contact dermatitis, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and lungs are also reported with the substances [4].

And we haven’t even mentioned how these fake nails and gels damage the nails themselves. Anyone who’s painted their nails or had fake nails knows your natural nails end up looking like a wreck.

Thin, flaky, peeling, and brittle nails are always the result of these fake nails or harsh polish. You end up locked into a vicious cycle, getting more fake nails to hide your shabby natural nails. It’s madness I tell you!

As with any of these beauty products we know they can be avoided. These aren’t things that are essential, I don’t care how pretty they make you feel no one needs fake nails. Instead of spending money on increasing the likelihood of kidney damage or getting dermatitis (crazy when you put it like that), how about just eating a healthy whole foods based diet that encourages strong long nails.

Toxic Nails Chemical #2: Toluene

Linked to, known as, or causes: Dry or cracked skin; headaches, dizziness, and numbness; irritated eyes, nose, throat, and lungs; damage to liver and kidneys; and harm to unborn children during pregnancy [5] [6].

Why it is dangerous: Toluene is found in nail glue, nail polish (as well as hair dye and gasoline) and is linked to damage to the nervous system including neurobehavioral changes with a potential decrease in attention, concentration, and motor skills [7] [8].

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, toluene is also restricted in cosmetics in the EU and found unsafe for use in cosmetics by the International Fragrance Association Codes and Standards [6].

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Single exposures to toluene or repeated exposures over a few weeks can cause headaches and sleepiness, and can impair your ability to think clearly” it goes on to say “Low to moderate, day-after-day exposure to toluene in your workplace can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, and loss of appetite.” [9].

Call me crazy but the only time I should be exhibiting “drunken type actions” is when I’ve actually been drinking too much and NOT because I’ve just had my nails done. Can you imagine, “no officer I’m not drunk it’s my nail polish”. Apparently it’s totally plausible.

So if you want to avoid drunken type behavior, headaches, dizziness, and harm to your unborn child avoid traditional nail polish, fake nails, and of course gasoline fumes.


Toxic Nails Chemical #3: Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs)

Also listed on labels as: Formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal [13]

Linked to, known as, or causes: Carcinogen, allergen, and irritant.

Why it is dangerous: The pervasive formaldehyde and FRP’s are found in nail polish and nail glue (as well as Brazilian style blowouts, eyelash glue, and many body products like body wash, shampoo, baby wash, as well as particle board type furniture, laminate flooring, cigarette smoke and more). These chemicals are considered known carcinogens, particularly linked to nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia [10].

This chemical is also known to cause contact dermatitis, so much so that the American Contact Dermatitis Society named formaldehyde its 2015 Allergen of the Year [11] (yeah that’s a thing—I was as surprised as you are).

As a side note, our old pal acrylate was honored in 2012 and fragrance in 2007 (just sayin’) [11].

Formaldehyde and IRP’s are everywhere and frankly take some work to avoid, but because of their well established toxicity I recommend you take measures to eliminate as much exposure as you can, and this includes frivolous things like conventional nail polish and fake nails. I know that sounds bad but I’m saying it because YOU deserve better!

Many nail polishes have chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and worse. Say no to toxic nails!Click To Tweet

Toxic Nails Chemical #4: Nail Polish Removing Chemicals

Also listed on labels as: Isopropyl Acetone: Methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), hexone, 2-pentanone; Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK): 2-butanone, 3-butanone, acetone; N-Methyl-Pyrrolidone (NMP): n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, 1-methyl-2-pyrrolidone [12]

Linked to, known as, or causes: Cancer, organ system toxicity, and irritant.

Why it is dangerous: There are several harmful chemicals in nail polish removers, many linked to cancer, kidney damage, and eye, nose, and lung irritants[12].

By know you know my response, avoid anything that causes harm if it can be avoided. Standard nail polish remover is in line with the other substances we’ve been reviewing, unnecessary and potentially dangerous.


Toxic Nails Chemical #5: Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP)

Also listed on labels as: Phosphoric acid, triphenyl esther, triphenyl ester phosphoric acid, celluflex tpp, reolube tpp, reomol tpp, tpp, trifenylfosfat, TPHP [14]

Linked to, known as, or causes: Endocrine disruptor

Why it is dangerous: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Duke University teamed up to co-author a study that found TPHP in the urine of every woman who agreed to paint their nails with a polish containing TPHP (which is common in nail polishes) [15].

According to EWG, “The results represent compelling evidence that TPHP, a suspected endocrine-disrupting chemical also used in plastics manufacturing and as a fire retardant in foam furniture, enters the human body via nail polish. These results are troubling because a growing body of scientific data from other studies indicates that TPHP causes endocrine disruption, meaning that it interferes with normal hormone functioning. In animal studies, it has caused reproductive and developmental irregularities.

In another report by EWG several studies were cited in which TPHP altered hormones and gene expression related to hormone balance [16].

The bottom line here is that TPHP should be avoided. Unless you like the idea of hormone disruption and altered genes.


So basically..

Most conventional nail polishes, fake nails, and nail glues contain a variety of harmful chemicals.

Many of these nail polish chemicals are known carcinogens (cancer causing), endocrine disruptors, induce organ toxicity, and are irritating to the skin, eyes, nose, and lungs.

You can probably guess my position, avoid these ingredients, which means no more fake nails and no more standard nail polish. This may seem tough to some but no amount of beauty is worth the potential harm.

Could you really justify increasing your chance of developing cancer just to have the latest Pinterest worthy set of nails? You are way more important than that!Click To Tweet

As for me I rarely paint my nails (I think I painted my toes twice last year) but when I do I choose from a few reputable nail polish brands that avoid most of these harmful chemicals.

If you MUST polish then there are three better options, they are free of toluene, formaldehyde, and several other toxic chemicals.

The three best nail polish options are Piggy Paint–which is designed for kids but hey polish is polish, Acquarella, and Suncoat. They are all rated 1 or 2 by EWG, with 1 being their safest rating.

I personally choose Piggy Paint on the rare occasion when I paint my nails.

The best nail polish remover I’ve found is from Karma Naturals which uses organically grown soybean oil as its base with just two other ingredients.

And all these products can be found in the Filtered Living Shop, where I’ve listed all the low toxin and toxin free recommendations to help you make your world safer.

You can also check out the other post in the series, Toxic Beauty: 5 Dangerous Chemicals in Your Beauty Products.

So there you have it, 5 compelling reasons to avoid fake nails and typical nail polish, as well as three safer alternatives. I really hope that helps you live your best life, free of toxins and much healthier for it. 

Until next time!



















IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: None of the health topics presented on Filtered Family have been evaluated or approved by the FDA. They should not replace personal judgment nor medical treatment, nor are they intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always talk to your naturopathic physician or M.D. about the use of these or any other complimentary modalities. Reading this website denotes your understanding and agreement to our full disclaimer.

1 Comment

  • I don’t know if you knew this but acrylics and acrylates are also sensitizers meaning the more times you come into contact with them the greater chance you have of becoming allergic. I am highly allergic to all acrylates and get what is called a type 4 hyper sensitive allergic reaction. It’s a fancy was of saying I can come into contact with Acrylates and 3 days later break out in hives that last for weeks in spots that the acrylates didn’t even touch because they cause my T-cells to attack. Unfortunately acrylates are in a TON of body products including shampoos, lotions, conditioners, first aid supplies and makeups. It’s also completely legal even though industry is aware of the sensitization risk. Theres also over 40 names for acrylics and acrylates when used in products so you have to be even more vigilant if you are trying to avoid it. They can even add acrylics and acrylates to things labeled as “fragrance”. Crazy world we live in.

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